Doctor Who (Classic): S04E03 “The Power of the Daleks”

Season 4
Directed by Christopher Barry
Written by David Whitaker

With the end of one era, another must take its place. We may have gotten our first look at the face of a newly regenerated Doctor, but now is the time to get our first real look at Patrick Troughton and how he fits onto the show. “The Tenth Planet” may have been hugely important historically, but at the time, this was the serial that needed to get things off to a strong start. He’s still the Doctor, but how similar was he going to be to the first incarnation? Was he going to be a good fit for the show? Would people stick around? Most importantly though, how was this going to affect the show? I’ll get into the answer to these over the coming months but I’ll answer the third question now (though the fact that the show is still on should give you some idea of the answer); they sure did. In fact, it reenergized the show’s sagging ratings and though they wouldn’t reach the heights of the First Doctor at his prime again until sometime in the Fourth Doctor’s era, they stabilized the show at a nice healthy mark.

While we have a new Doctor, we at least maintain the same companions in Ben and Polly which is the kind of stability the show needs. For fans of NuWho coming back to the original run, this question is if this will be more of a Rose or a Clara situation. Both fundamentally changed the relationships between them and the Doctor while dealing with their reactions to the change but one took a great supporting character and struggled to maintain the same chemistry while the other took an initially promising character who had fallen flat and actually gave her purpose and a far better fit. As fitting their characters, Polly is far more accepting of this change than Ben. To be fair to him, the Doctor now looks and acts completely different (a bold choice and refreshing choice at the time), referring to his first incarnation in the third person, and even in a short time they’ve certainly been exposed to plenty of weird shit, but that doesn’t make his anger about it any less off putting.

With “The Daleks’ Master Plan” eating up much of last season, we haven’t had a serial longer than four episodes since then or a six episode serial since the Dalek starring “The Chase”. The length allows for a bit more complicated of a plot than usual. We have the typical rebels trying to gain power story that Doctor Who treats as basically the default plot, but I actually like that in a nice reversal from the normal Doctor Who stories, the rebels are the evil ones for once complete with a power mad dictator in waiting. They are also the ones responsible for unleashing the Daleks (if under the misguided belief that they can control them) though the ruling party is negligent as hell. Beyond this plot, we also have the Doctor posing as a murdered investigator and of course the title characters who start off merely as depowered husks and spend most of their screen time visibly subservient. It takes until towards the end of the third episode for the Daleks to even “reveal” themselves as the villains and until episode six to openly put their plan into motion.

The only reason the Daleks are even relevant are because they are experimented on following the discovery of 3 depowered Daleks by the humans. I don’t actually believe these are scientists, just some assholes who stumbled on some lab coats though. Even with the excuse that two are working on the resistance and that classic sci-fi in general and Doctor Who specifically have never been fans of scientists, they constantly make stupid mistakes and believe themselves to be infallible. I do like the touch of the one scientist turning everything off before they rush to check on the man who is killed (even if they try and make it seem like he was just knocked out), but otherwise, you can’t possibly imagine what the fucking laser looking thing could be used for? A sucker stick? It’s a plunger and you bloody well know it. And what can go wrong with giving creatures you have been constantly warned about all the materials they need to build something in secret.

Yes, you took away their lasers and yes the Doctor is hardly someone who seems trustworthy (the Doctor seems even less willing to describe his plans than normal to his companions even this time) but they are far too trusting of the Daleks (possibly referring to their overconfidence in their ability but it’s never really shown what they could have done to even make it seem like they have turned Daleks into servants but their word. The Dalek is reactivated and the next time it is seen, the gunstick is removed and the Dalek is now a servant (though the Doctor is clearly and smartly not trusting of it). I had to rewatch the back part of that episode twice since it felt like I had blanked out on a scene or two. It’s the one part of the serial that could have used some more exploration.

As part of this whole servant thing is a new spin on the Dalek story and it always seems like by including them, the writers feel more comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone with plots. The Daleks are limited throughout by their lack of access to power (except when the humans allow it) and they attempt to bring back the notion that Daleks cannot survive long off metal floors (a curious decision but at least they temper that with a handwave saying they just need to rebuild the mechanisms to avoid that since the show loves doing everything it can to make each tiny, seemingly contradicting piece of its lore fit) but that hardly stops them. The Daleks are able to play the scientists without even resorting to violence until the end. In their best display of their tactical prowess yet, they actually are willing to fake being servants until they are given the materials and time needed to reconstruct their army (showing the creation of Daleks for once). They are also given more shading as characters since they seem amazed that human would kill their own kind. I love when stories including Doctor Who do the “humans are the real monsters plot line” and especially when they can do it without being too explicit about it. The Daleks may be genocidal space Nazis who believe their race is superior to all, but you almost have to admire the loyalty within their species (well unless a filthy hybrid gets in and taints the purity…). Considering how stupid, power hungry, and out of their depths the humans are, I actually found myself rooting for them at some points which considering their origin is especially impressive.

We don’t get too much of an idea what the new Doctor will be like considering as hinted above, he seems a bit more out there than normal and it’s hard to tell how much is due to the regeneration (the quirks do seem to fade as the serial continues) and how much is just new characteristics. The Doctor fucking about on the flute while Ben grows infuriated about his lack of explanations is magnificent but the flute goes from enjoyably quirky to obnoxious at some point. Straight off the Doctor gets his new distinctive style though that hat the Doctor wears at points is far too silly. Thank goodness that part at least doesn’t stick because I like the rest of his rather strange looking style. What I really appreciated though the Doctor’s investigative skills that are constantly on display. The First Doctor had this as a trait as well, but he was often far too haughty to realize when he was out of his depth and was not nearly as clever as he thought he was. We also get a first look at the Doctor running from a situation, practically a defining trait of the Doctor by the time of NuWho and an early sign that with someone not suffering from a litany of health issues in the lead role, the Doctor is now more free to take part of the action (though he is still someone who will attack a problem with his mind). He also is able to save the day by sciencing up a solution of which he is not.

The serial is a great start to a new era and most enjoyably, it’s remarkably light on filler. The six episodes feel earned and yet with all the plots it never feels overstuffed. It continues to make an old villain and old plot fresh all while reintroducing the main character with hardly a stumble. The Daleks may have provided a nice easy cushion for Troughton to join the series, but his performance hardly requires it.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations
– No new intro sequence yet and it just feels wrong now not to greet the new Doctor with a new intro (though I’m certainly not complaining since the original one is still awesome)
– I kept this out of the main text but it is certainly worth noting that the animation is… not great. It is very visibly a rush job but in line with (or better than) the quality of the other serials that have received this treatment. Considering the money troubles the BBC faces, the niche audience for this 50-year-old serial, and the fact that animation of any sort (not to mention a television premiere) is a huge improvement over the slide show format (as seen on my computer) I’m still counting the very existence of it as a big win and hope that they get back to producing these somewhat more regularly.
– The dialogue and facial expressions are where the animation really falls apart but at least they managed to properly sync the dialogue.
Doctor Who is a show that benefits from the episodes being watched in blocks and even with saving up the episodes, I wish I had just watched them all back to back (or over say a 2 day span). It’s also more challenging to write a review/recap over that lengthy spell.
– The discovery of the lifeless Daleks is suitably creepy as is an unexpectedly somber shot late of a number of murdered human bodies as a Dalek rolls past.
– If I’m not mistaken this is the first look at the creature in the shell as it is scurrying under a door in the darkness (not sure if this was a modern touch of the animation though
– Polly’s “Some people you know are alright just by looking at them” pissed me the hell off. Ben may be more cynical but that statement and her assessment of the situation is naive at best, prejudicial at worst. It’s the kind of thing sci-fi including Doctor Who (although not always) has where they make the villains the “evil” looking ones.
– Why would you need power to open up a Dalek? In “The Daleks”, the Doctor opened one up just fine after it had been disconnected from its power.
– At least one of the Scientists is smart enough to notice it looking at him and get concerned though that is instead a death sentence for his character.
– “WITH STATIC POWER THE DALEKS WILL BE TWICE AS… useful”. The Daleks aren’t exactly known for their humor, but every once in a while, they are good for a honest intentional laugh.
– They also provide a nice subversion of where the plot seems to be going when they fail to fall for the same servant trick they fall on the humans. If it wasn’t for the Doctor (and no one else is vaguely useful), they would have easily won.
– The stupid humans don’t even thank him and just get mad at him for the damage caused by his stupidity. It’s not as dark an ending as the show can get even with one of the Daleks having been revealed to have survived (“The Aztecs”, “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve) but it is a thematically appropriate one and a delightful change of pace.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: As the Doctor and company flies off, a badly damaged Dalek opens its eye and slowly raises it’s eyestalk in an ending straight out of a slasher movie.

Next Up: Can’t promise when it will be (though I’m aiming for it to be within the next couple weeks, not months) but next up is the final historical and Troughton’s only entry in the genre as we meet a new companion.